Big housebuilders and Local Authorities like big new housing schemes. Housebuilders like the profits, and Local Authorities have to hit their housebuilding targets. Usually though, local residents don’t like big new schemes. We know new houses are needed, especially affordable homes for young families. But we worry that our concerns about the capacity of local roads, schools and doctors surgeries, let alone green spaces and wildlife, will all be brushed aside.
Development is a major issue in West Bexhill, Battle, and many of our villages. Wouldn’t it be good if local residents could feel they had some control over where the necessary new housing is put?
Well, they can. Neighbourhood Plans (NPs) give local communities the chance to take control of where new housing should go. Introduced in 2011 by the Localism Act, NPs encourage communities to produce detailed plans setting out how they want their community to grow. Volunteers led by town or parish councils do the hard work needed, but the law then requires the completed NP to be signed off by a local referendum. Towns can produce separate NPs for different areas.
Once your NP is in place you can defend against any planning applications that fall outside your Plan. It is already clear that some developers actively seek out areas with no NP in place because it is easier for them to obtain approvals.
An NP also means that the local town or parish will receive 25% of the levy paid by developers instead of 15% elsewhere. This can result in local councils receiving six and seven figure sums from developers to spend on what they want for their community. In Bexhill with no NP and no Town Council, Rother retains all the levy and the local community has no say in how it is spent.
Local Authorities cannot initiate NPs and the amount of support they provide varies hugely. In some parts of Sussex such as Arun and Mid Sussex virtually every parish has a completed NP in place. But in Rother, there are just two, one for Sedlescombe, and the other for Salehurst & Robertsbridge under the able Chairmanship of LibDem Stephen Hardy. Others are on their way but they have no effect until completed and accepted. Battle in particular, with some 350 new houses in prospect, is pushing to complete its NP in time to attract the 25% share of the levy, although it is too late to influence existing outline permissions.
Liberal Democrats believe that Rother should do more to support and encourage completion of NPs right across the District. We believe local communities know best where future housing should be placed. If only Bexhill had the Town Council its residents so clearly want, it too could benefit.